Milan Fashion Week has just wrapped up. If you’ve missed it, that’s understandable – I’d be the first to admit I like my clothes, but one can become jaded when “Insert City Here” Fashion Week comes around practically every month.
However, this specific Milan Fashion Week has caused a bit of a furore in the fashion and marketing worlds, and it’s worth writing about here. While you might be thinking “how can anything remotely relevant to this blog be connected to an industry where people are routinely encouraged to pay £900 for a jumper that someone’s hacked up with a pair of scissors and then left in a burning building”, bear with me.
In a nutshell, four senior staffers at US Vogue contributed to an onsite round-up of the week in Milan and, amongst the gushing praise for the wildly impractical stylings of Gucci and Versace, all of them took the opportunity to stick the boot into fashion “bloggers” (the word they all used). These bloggers were, for various reasons not really worth going into, derided as “pathetic”, “embarrassing” and “heralding the death of style”. Which feels a bit harsh, even when you’re talking about people who rock up outside catwalk shows looking like anthropomorphised mint humbugs.
Selective memory or careless commentary?
The observant reader will have noticed that the last link was to a page on – you guessed it – US Vogue’s website. The magazine uses these bloggers to drive traffic to its website, and Vogue España even tapped one blogger, Chiara Ferragni, to grace its cover in April 2015. Additionally, the job titles of all four Vogue staffers indicate that they work heavily in the online sphere, rather than the print side of the magazine, so their use of the word “blogger” is interesting in what it reveals. Clearly the people they’re deriding are much more than bloggers – they’re influencers, capable of shaping the tastes and buying habits of millions of women worldwide. The Vogue writers know this, of course. You don’t get to their position in an industry so reliant on cultivating authority without knowing about the impact of digital influencers. Their use of the word is just the stamp on their put-down – but why are they even bothering?
Do they have a point?
Are they scared that they’re becoming less relevant? That’s certainly what it feels like, and it would make sense – after all, who were the original influencers if not institutions like Vogue? And if Vogue refused to engage with influencers, this stance would make sense. However, there’s no doubt that the fashion elite, Vogue included, has embraced influencers as detailed above, and the brands themselves know that if they can get someone of Ferragni’s ilk to wear their clothes at a high-profile event, the exposure and sales they receive would surpass anything they could achieve through other marketing channels. They have no choice – they can’t afford to give their competitors an edge. Read in that way, then, the snarkiness of the Vogue piece looks spectacularly hypocritical.
Influencer authenticity (whatever ratio of that is manufactured-to-legitimate) is now at a point where it is always going to win out over the perceived authority of the likes of Vogue. It happens in practically every industry where advertising can be easily translated to Instagram or Twitter or YouTube – this initiative from Boxed Water, for example, tapped actress Jaime King (1 million Instagram followers), in addition to other influencers, to get the word out to potential customers. Vogue thinks it’s railing against the dying of the light, when really it’s just showing itself to be out-of-touch and closed-off, in addition to displaying the blatant hypocrisy mentioned above. It might be understandable if the people doing the railing were part of the print team, but these are the digital editors – are they really so naïve as they appear to be here?
The answer is probably not but, for the sake of having a collective tantrum, Vogue has managed to come across very badly as far as the influencers are concerned. The way the power balance is shifting, the influencers will soon be (if they’re not already) more significant than these magazines – when the magazines come calling for help with a campaign or an interview, will the influencers answer the call?
This is the risk that Vogue, and any other brand, takes when it dares to criticise those who wield the authority and authenticity to drive sales and attention any way they choose. The backlash has already begun, with a mix of indignity and mocking laughter in the responses on social media by the likes of Susie Bubble and Shea Marie. While no-one has so far called for a freeze-out of Vogue, that sort of reaction will surely not be long in coming if divisive comments continue to be made. And then Vogue could discover how cold and unwelcoming the fashion industry can really be.
What does Vogue need to do to repair its relationship with influencers? How would you handle it? Let us know via @RocketMill.